WSU tries new tactics to combat alcohol abuse

Bruce Wright, task force chair and executive director of WSU Health and
Wellness Services. (Photo by Linda Weiford, WSU News)

PULLMAN, Wash. – In a wave of actions intended to quell binge drinking and other high-risk behaviors among students, Washington State University has intensified its alcohol and drug policies and amplified mandatory education for incoming freshmen.
Even before classes begin on Aug. 19, many students will be aware of the changes made at the direction of WSU President Elson S. Floyd.
Last year, Floyd convened a 17-member task force to target high-risk drinking and drug use. The task force, made up of faculty, staff, students and community representatives, presented him with recommendations after reviewing data on drug- and alcohol-related incidents among students at WSU and campuses nationwide.
Changes being implemented include:
* adding more alcohol-free floors to residence halls;
* notifying parents the first time a student under 21 violates WSU’s rules against underage drinking;
* requiring alcohol screening for at-risk students and providing intervention if necessary;
* teaching students how to recognize signs of alcohol poisoning and how to intervene;
* and asking the faculty senate to approve an increase in the number of classes offered on Friday mornings.
A recommendation is under consideration to gradually phase out fraternity freshman housing.
“We know from multiple national studies and local data that freshmen are more likely to experience alcohol-related harm than other students and that freshmen fraternity members are in the highest risk category,” said physician Bruce Wright, who chaired the task force and is executive director of WSU’s Health and Wellness Services. “The idea is to eventually have all freshmen living in the residence halls where trained personnel are on hand 24/7.”
Freshman Kenny Hummel died of alcohol poisoning on the Pullman campus in October, becoming one of nearly 2,000 college students ages 18-24 killed by alcohol-related injuries each year. WSU administrators, with support from Hummel’s family, vowed to put a spotlight on binge drinking, identified as a top problem on campuses nationwide by the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism.
In response to task force recommendations:
* WSU has beefed up its mandatory “Booze, Sex and Reality Checks” program for freshmen and its bystander intervention education called Green Dot.
Though new college students commonly attend education sessions on responsible decision making and the dangers of over-drinking and drug use, “we’re going far beyond that,” said Wright. “We’re determined to deliver the message in multiple ways to ensure that it’s effective at increasing awareness and reducing harm among students.”
* WSU will add more alcohol-free floors to residence halls.
Huskey“Although students 21 and older are permitted to drink inside their rooms, this would provide an option for students to live on floors where no alcohol is consumed – period,” said Melynda Huskey, WSU dean of students, who served on the task force.
* WSU is turning to parents for help by notifying them the first time a student violates alcohol and drug policies. Federal law allows colleges and universities to notify parents of alcohol and drug violations when students are younger than 21, explained Huskey. But it’s left up to each institution to determine at what point parents are notified.
“Robust research shows that parents can have a significant influence on their children’s drinking habits and we want to tap into that,” she said. “Rather than using parental notification as a scare tactic, we view it as an opportunity to involve parents in the process of reducing harm.”
A national survey of campuses conducted by Bowling Green State University researchers showed that most colleges with similar first-time offense notification policies reported a curb in repeat offenses.
“It’s just that kind of data that guided the task force in coming up with a recommendation to involve parents early on,” said Huskey.
WSU has developed a guidebook for parents designed to help them have constructive conversations with students on making decisions related to alcohol and drug use.
* WSU will seek faculty senate approval to schedule more classes on Friday mornings to combat alcohol-fueled three-day weekends. A 2007 study by the University of Missouri found that more than half of male students and 43 percent of female students were more likely to binge on Thursday nights if they didn’t have classes to prepare for on Friday. A study in New Zealand showed similar results.
“If something as simple as the timing of a student’s academic classes will help prevent excessive drinking behavior, then it’s a good science-based practice to implement,” said Wright.
* WSU has paired with Pullman Regional Hospital to ensure that students seen at the emergency room for alcohol-related sickness or injuries are screened. If they appear to be at risk for substance-abuse problems, emergency room staff will work with WSU’s Health and Wellness clinic to intervene and get them help.
Health and Wellness has also implemented routine annual screening for alcohol and drug related problems for patients to the clinic.
red watch* WSU has become one of more than 60 universities to implement the Red Watch Band program. Students will be given shiny, inexpensive watches after they complete a training program on how to identify and respond to signs of alcohol-related emergencies.
Developed by New York’s Stony Brook University, the program is designed to help students look out for each other.
“We’re really emphasizing the concept of Cougs looking out for Cougs,” said Wright.


Bruce Wright, WSU task force chair, 509-335-3575,
Melynda Huskey, WSU dean of students, 509-335-2193,